TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran successfully launched a new small satellite into orbit early Friday, state media reported, the latest in the country's ambitious space program that has raised concerns in the West because of its possible military applications.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called in to the launch site, saying he was "hopeful this act will send a signal of more friendship among all human beings," the official IRNA news agency reported.
IRNA said the domestically-made satellite, Navid, or Gospel, was designed to collect data on weather conditions and monitor for natural disasters.
It said the satellite weighs about 110 pounds (50 kilograms) and would orbit Earth at an altitude of up to 234 miles (375 kilometers), circling the planet 15 times a day. It's of a type known as miniaturized or microsatellites, which are cheaper to produce and allow for less costly launch vehicles.
Produced at an Iranian engineering university, Navid is the third small satellite that Iran has launched in recent years and is expected to remain in orbit for about two months. IRNA said Navid has advanced control technology, a higher resolution camera and photocells to generate power.
The satellite was sent into orbit by a missile launch-vehicle dubbed Safir, or Ambassador in Farsi, which IRNA said has 20 percent more launch power compared to earlier versions of satellite carrier missiles.
An Iranian website, Irannuc.ir, claimed Safir was a ballistic missile that can be converted into an intercontinental missile. State TV showed footage of the launch, with a rocket sent off and turning into a light point in the darkness of the skies.
In Washington, a State Department official said the technology used in the Safir rocket was "critical" to the development of a long-range ballistic missile and that its use violated a 2010 U.N. resolution prohibiting Iran from conducting launches using ballistic missile technology.
Iran's decade-old space program has raised alarms in the West, because the same technology that allows missiles to launch satellites can be used to fire warheads.
Israel, the U.S. and others charge that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies, insisting its nuclear enrichment program is geared only for peaceful purposes, such as energy production.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and the country's minister of science and technology, Kamran Daneshjoo, were present at the launch, IRNA said. There was no independent confirmation or details about where the launch took place.
Iran has made a series of claims in recent years about advances in its space program, which have not been verified by others. In 2010, Tehran announced it had successfully launched a rocket carrying a mouse, turtle and worms into space.
Also, Iran has set a goal of putting a man in orbit within 10 years, despite the expense and technological challenges involved.
The authorities are intent on showcasing the nation's technological successes as signs Iran can advance despite the West's sanctions over its disputed nuclear program. Iran is also pressing ahead with its military missile program, frequently testing missiles capable of reaching Israel, U.S. bases in the Gulf and parts of southeast Europe.